Federalist Papers Summary 22
The Federalist Essays Summary No 22: Alexander Hamilton December 14, 1787
This lengthy paper is concerned with defects in the constitution under the Articles of Confederation. The defects covered are the lack of control of commerce between the States, the inability to raise and Army, the problems with equal voting power by large and small States, the ability of a minority to prevent government action, lack of a national supreme court, and the need for more than a single government body.
There was little argument that commerce between the States needed to be regulated since difficulties with foreign nations and between States had already occurred. In particular Great Britain was considering restricting trade with the Union until the American Government acquired greater consistency among the States. Without a regulation of trade between the States conflicts would arise caused by the individual legislatures adopting regulations benefiting the individual States at the expense of free trade throughout the confederacy.
The power to raise armies in the Articles was really the power to made requisitions upon the States for quotas of men. Several problems appeared during the last war; States actually bid for enlistments from other States creating a bidding war and delaying enlisting by those waiting for a higher price. Further, States far from the seat of war were remiss in filling quotas leading to the conclusion that “the system of quotas and requisitions, whether it be applied to men or money, is in every view a system of imbecility in the union, and of inequality and injustice among the members”.
All States had equal votes in the assembled congress meaning that that a majority vote could be produced by NH, RI, NJ, DE, GA, SC, and MD even though they contained only one third of the total population. Although nine of the thirteen states had to concur on matters of importance adding NY and CT to the above list still represented less than a majority. There was no provision for adding additional States since nine of thirteen was the exact provision with no means of modification.
But a more important defect existed because of the need for either unanimous or near unanimous votes which allowed on occasions RI and DE representing one sixtieth part of the Union to veto any government action. The majority must prevail, it is stated, without the need for “contemptible compromises of the public good”. The ability of one or few to block the action also offered opportunity for foreign influence over American policy if one or several States could be corrupted. A weakness among many strengths of a republic is that the representatives are persons elevated from the mass of community and may find compensation for betraying their trust and “hence it is that history furnished us with so many mortifying examples of the prevalency of foreign corruption in republican governments”.
The greatest defect apparently was the want of judiciary power for there was no national supreme court to arbitrate differences arrived at by separate supreme courts in each State. Further laws passed by the national government could be interpreted and superseded by the individual States whose authority to do so extended to treaties entered into by the Union. The faith and reputation of the whole Union was threatened.
The paper continues by stating that the existing constitution is so “radically vicious and unsound” that amending it would be inappropriate and thus a new constitution is required. As an example a single house of Congress may be adequate for the limited powers for the head given in the Articles but it would not be for the expanded powers required to cure the defects. If the proposed constitution was rejected and all of the required powers were placed in a single body it would “create the very tyranny” that they sought to avert.
The meaning of the last paragraph is not obvious from the paper but it is of considerable importance to those concerned with the issue of the State’s right to withdraw from the Union. When the Articles of Confederation were ratified it took the concurrence of all thirteen States but more importantly the State legislatures decided whether to ratify or not. Some considered this to mean that the States could then decide at a later date to repeal this decision. “However gross a heresy it may be, to maintain that a party to a compact has a right to revoke that compact, the doctrine itself has had respectable advocates.” But “the fabric of American Empire ought to rest on the solid basis of the consent of the people” and not on the State legislatures. If this was the case then the compact would be between the people and the American Government and not subject to repeal of the decision to ratify. So although Article VII of the constitution does not mention it, the ratification convention members were required to be popularly elected thus being of the people and therefore States could not overturn this decision and remove themselves from the Union.
Federalist Papers Summary 22 Written by Donald Mellon